“Tasso to Leonora” by Charles Fenno Hoffman

by Ann Neilson

Torquato Tasso was a Romantic Italian poet who, “Although…no more than a footnote today…was once wildly popular, quoted by philosophers, emulated by poets, and a source of inspiration to painters and composers,” according to Philip Kennicott in his article, “Torquato Tasso, a Poet Both Obscure and Ubiquitous.” Kennicott goes on to explain, “Even his sad and tormented life was an obsession for the romantics, inspiring a play by Goethe, a poem by Byron, a painting by Delacroix, and a symphonic study by Liszt.” I will not discuss Tasso’s life in this post (if ever), however I do want to precede Hoffman’s poem with a little context. It was a quickly spread belief in the 19th century that Tasso was romantically connected with Eleonora d’Este, a princess who took Tasso under her protection, alongside sister Lucrezia, during the later years of his life. According to John Devey in his article “Postscript to the Life of Tasso,” found in The Jerusalem Delivered, of Torquato Tasso, “That Tasso’s sonnets to Leonora were something more than the mere vers de societé, which the gallant chevaliers of that age were constantly laying at the feet of high-born dames, is, we believe, past a doubt. That Leonora encouraged his affection is also as readily admitted. The only question is how far the lovers passed the boundary of a discreet Platonism” (lxv). Thus, we find Hoffman’s poem, portraying a maddened Tasso imploring his love for Leonora. A romantic thought, indeed—do you think the two were romantically connected, however? I don’t believe there is enough evidence based on what little I’ve read to definitively lend to the case. Despite some apparently pretty verses written for Leonora, including a dedication in his poem, O figlie di Renata, there is not a lot of evidence to lend to a potential tryst. However, myth aside, Hoffman still retains his merit as an excellent poet, and this poem lends especial credence to his expertise.

Tasso to Leonora
Charles Fenno Hoffman

STILL, still I love thee; Hope no more,
‘Tis true, may light my dungeon’s gloom,
And youth as well as hope is o’er,
Both buried in a living tomb;
And even reason doth forsake me,
So oft that I begin to fear
If not the madman they would make me,
Its utter loss is ever near;
Yet fettered in this hideous cell,
And banned and barred from those sweet eyes,
Unknowing if one memory dwell
With thee of him who daily dies,—
Still, Leonora, still alone to thee
Beneath their shackles still untamably
Love’s pulses beat as if my limbs were free.

Go tell thy brother though the infectious breath
Of my rank prison may be steeped in death,
Though through my veins corrupting now may steal
The accursed taint which day by day I feel
Poisoning life’s tabernacle, regret
For having loved thee, Leonora, never yet,
In spite of all I’ve borne or yet may bear,
Hath wrung one craven tear from my despair.
And thou—thou who from him who’d do and dare,
And suffer all of anguish heart can feel
Thou who in beauty’s pride did shrink to hear
The love that lips could only half reveal;
Blushing, ashamed, because thou wert so dear
To one thy kinsman cared not to approve,—
Thou, Leonora, when I am no more,
Shalt feel the influence of a poet’s love;
In every land my story they’ll deplore,
Pilgrims from all shall make my grave their shrine,
And each who breathes my name shall murmur thine.